Mobile Phones and Customary Law in Afghanistan

I 2006, I was working for USAID in northern Uganda as the 20 year conflict in the region was winding down. While negotiators in Juba were sorting out a lasting peace, our group was convening community leaders from the various regions to discuss tricky disputes around issues like land re-settlement and water supply. This was challenging because northern Uganda is a vast place, and getting leaders from disparate regions together was a logistical nightmare.

Can mobile phones make meaningful dispute resolution more efficient? Paypal's Mobile Phone Jirga, a project supporting the rule of law in Afghanistan, seems to think so.

I'm fascinated by this attempt to build process and code around customary law. The complainant initiates a jirga by recording a voice message, which is delivered to the respondent, who records his own rebuttal. Both arguments are delivered to the jirga elder panel, who hears the case, records their response, and delivers it back to the parties via mobile phone. I'm very curious to hear how this long standing Afghan tradition adapts to this experiment.

HT: Jessica Heinzelman


Feedback Loops, A Neuro-Scientist and western Kenya

This summer in Kampala, in between hazardously driving a Benz and awkwardly singing Kenny Rogers with the vice president of Kenya, I had an amazing opportunity to research and co-author a paper with nuero-scientist cum philanthropy feedback loop expert Marc Maxson. Marc is manager of performance analytics at Global Giving, one of the most important 'start-ups' in the marketplace for aid. In his spare time, he does things like write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

To better understand feedback loops, we each visited Kisumu, in western Kenya, to hang out with SACRENA, a project that received both traditional feedback [external expert evaluator] and more informal, experimental, web and mobile mediated feedback loops [Global Giving visitor postcards, direct email links between project beneficiaries and funders].

The resulting paper, “Real-time technology aided feedback loops in international philanthropy” was delivered at the International Social Innovation Research Conference at Oxford by Mari Kuraishi, GlobalGiving’s president. The paper is an early step in exploring some of the qualitative differences in the two types of feedback. The next exciting step is to pilot new and better forms of feedback loops between donors and beneficiaries.


Thursday Links 11.5.09

BikeStationDC, a stunning new facility at Union Station in DC, via BrooklynByBike

In Capetown, Kevin Donovan applies lessons from the U.S. net neutrality struggle to the Africa digital technology eco-system. I'm embarrassed that I only came across Kevin's blog a few weeks ago!

In Cambridge, John Clippinger and Oliver Goodenough discuss the legal, biological and cultural basis for Berkman's Law Lab.

In Portland, EcoVelo, easily the most beautiful bike blog, hosts an endless summer photo contest.

Also in Capetown, ITNews reports on coming explosion of the mobile content and apps market in the lead up to the World Cup.


Foreign Aid | From Planning to Markets and Networks

The practical work of moving foreign aid away from the planning and towards markets and networks is only in its infancy. In his fantastic Center for Global Development paper on Markets and Networks for Better Aid, Owen Barder provides a vision of what a marketplace and network for aid would begin to look like. The most interesting challenge to me is finding a replacement for price in the market metaphor. Owen seems to agree:

...there is no obvious analogue to price. Markets work by simplifying large amounts of information about preferences, costs, and effectiveness into a simple, transparent price signal. In the aid system, there are rarely explicit measures of the price of each output which would provide signals to producers and consumers.
Improving the feedback loop between donors, project managers and aid recipients is the best way to create a proxy for price in aid projects. My friend and Fletcher colleague Chrissy Martin has a great piece about how groups are experimenting with informal, SMS-based feedback tools. In Put Up a Billboard and Ask the Community: Using Mobile Tech for Program Monitoring and Evaluation, Chrissy explores the experience of RapidSMS in Malawi, Global Giving and Twaweza in Tanzania, each testing SMS-based feedback mechanisms on various scales and in very different settings. The goal, she writes, is that "mobile technology can be integrated into M&E systems so that they are more participatory, useful, and cost effective."

The time-lag question seems interesting. There is an argument for using feedback mechanism(like on the billboard) to develop priorities before aid is distributed, but also in the aftermath of aid, in a more targeted attempt to evaluate a particular intervention.

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